Johanna Uurasjarvi J.Crew

J. Crew Group has named Johanna Uurasjarvi as its chief design officer, with responsibility for the overall design direction for the J. Crew brand as well as Crewcuts and Mercantile.

Uurasjarvi succeeds Somsack Sikhounmuong, who left the company last September.

Uurasjarvi was creative director of West Elm, the lifestyle and specialty home furnishing retailer, and prior to that, she was the creative director of Anthropologie for a decade.

“Johanna brings more than 25 years of fashion and design experience with a unique understanding of how customers shop and live,” said Jim Brett, chief executive officer of J. Crew Group.

Brett and Uurasjarvi have a history of working together, at West Elm, where Brett was president before joining J. Crew a year ago, and at Anthropologie, where both held senior positions.

“Johanna is a visionary with impeccable taste who will undoubtedly inspire our team, our partners and our customers,” Brett said. “I am thrilled to work with Johanna again. We had a powerful and successful partnership at West Elm and Anthropologie.”

Uurasjarvi is credited as the builder of West Elm’s successful “New Modern” assortment, which was described as “a lighter and brighter interpretation of classic Mid-Century Modern with layered textures and material innovation, incorporating the company’s signature interest in global artistry.” J. Crew also said Uurasjarvi is known for developing imaginative collections and that she was an instrumental is bringing West Elm to $1 billion in revenues.

At Anthropologie, Uurasjarvi was the executive creative director of product design. She built the brand’s first in-house design team.

“Her talent for juxtaposing clean lines with whimsical detail created the original aesthetic, still the foundational signature,” J. Crew said in a statement issued Monday.

In 2008, while at Anthropologie, she developed the Leifsdottir brand, which was carried by Anthropologie as well as 200 additional doors including Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom. In 2011, she was picked as one of the most creative people of the year by Fast Company.

Born and raised in Finland, Uurasjarvi graduated from Helsinki’s Aalto University where she studied art and design and worked internationally before joining Anthropologie, a division of Urban Outfitters in Philadelphia. She then moved to Brooklyn, with her husband, three children and dog, when she joined West Elm.

J. Crew didn’t fill the slot held by Jenna Lyons, who left the company about 14 months ago. Lyons held the title of president and executive creative director for the entire J. Crew Group Inc. and had been responsible for all product design, visual and brand presentation. After she left, Somsack Sikhounmuong was given greater responsibilities, though he did not succeed Lyons.

J. Crew Group, helped by the ongoing momentum at Madewell, showed progress in its turnaround by cutting its net loss to $33.9 million for the first quarter ended May 5, from $121 million in the year-ago period.

While Madewell excels, the J. Crew brand continues to show negative results. But officials said a “relaunch” of the J. Crew brand is being planned for September and that the brand’s sales continue to sequentially improve toward a positive comp. Uurasjarvi’s impact on the brand won’t be felt until next year.

Turnaround efforts include expense-cutting, increased digital penetration, sourcing changes involving cost negotiations and introducing subbrands such as Playa for swimwear, all of which officials said offer a younger appeal and more accessible prices and fits. J. Crew is also putting greater emphasis on its Heritage Collection of its most iconic products such as rugby shirts and roll-neck sweaters.

As of May 30, the company operated 228 J. Crew retail stores, 121 Madewell stores, jcrew.com, jcrewfactory.com, madewell.com and 175 factory stores — including 42 J. Crew Mercantile stores. Beginning in the fall and over the course of a year, the company will be relocating its corporate offices at 770 Broadway in the East Village to 225 Liberty Street in Brookfield Place in lower Manhattan.

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